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No more future booze bans, please!

Research shows that the lockdowns spurred growth in the black market in alcohol.

What happens when something people really want is banned? Do they stop wanting it? Or do they find other ways to access it? Our experience with the lockdown alcohol ban answers this question and must give policymakers pause when considering their future plans.

According to the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (Tracit), liquor bans have spurred the growth of the black market in alcohol. Research from the Institute for Security Studies supports this conclusion, as does statements from the South African Revenue Service.

And it simply stands to reason: People are not robots and do not suddenly stop craving and desiring certain products just because some politicians said it must be so. Readers of this article likely know very well from personal experience that, on the ground, the booze did not stop flowing. For the formal, lawful alcohol industry, however, South Africa’s alcohol bans have been disastrous.

The justification for the bans was quite intuitive: Expecting a rise in Covid-19 patients to arrive at South African hospitals, government wanted to reduce the number of patients suffering from an alcohol-related condition taking upward space. The healthcare sector needed time, so went the reasoning, to expand its capacity.

The first alcohol ban was imposed between March 27, and June 1, 2020, the second from July 12 to August 17, and the most recent was from 28 December 2020 to 1 February 2021, when it was mostly lifted.

On Monday, 24 August 2020, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced that they “have no started to dismantle some of the field hospitals [because additional] beds are no longer necessary”. This was mere days after the lockdown was downgraded from level 3 to level 2. Cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma cautioned South Africans against the very real possibility of a second wave in the near future as restrictions on their liberties were being taken away.

In December, when he was announcing the renewed alcohol ban, President Cyril Ramaphosa noted how hospitals were being overwhelmed with alcohol-related trauma cases.

Government did expand hospital capacity then dismantled it, knowing well that a second wave was likely on the horizon. It is the stuff of spiteful, arbitrary governance, then, to punish a massive sector of the economy, not to mention the South African public, for government’s own short-sighted planning.

While the lockdown alcohol ban might at the time of writing have been lifted, Dlamini-Zuma has made it clear that banning liquor again was not out of the question. The alcohol industry is therefore now caught in a position of impossible uncertainty.

Minister Dlamini-Zuma says the ban’s intention is not to cause harm to the industry, but such an assurance is cold comfort in light of the facts.

The alcohol industry by 2019 had supported the livelihoods of a million South Africans and contributed more than 3% of GDP, not to mention the more than R15 billion in tax revenue it brought in for government. Indeed, the money the alcohol industry lost due to the lockdown booze ban would have gone a long way to financing South Africa’s vaccine drive.

Tracit found that there was a 900% increase in pineapple sales after the alcohol ban came into effect. The obvious reason for this is that many people started homebrewing pineapple beer, and presumably selling it on the black market.

Even supermarkets, seizing the opportunity, “started selling the fruit as a package with sugar and yeast”. During the ban, the police also reported the smuggling of alcohol contraband from neighbouring states, and losses to the lawful industry in the illicit trade, according to Tracit, were expected to rise to about R13 billion per year.

While the illicit trade is entirely understandable, given the ill-considered policy decisions made by the government, consumers should nonetheless beware of the health risks of purchasing homebrewed booze. Whereas the lawful alcohol industry is subject to strict quality standards, someone selling beer they had just made in their garage is not. Dozens of reported deaths have already resulted from such dangerous consumption.

Some who do not partake in the consumption of alcohol (myself being among them), have admitted the damage this ban has done economically, but do not sympathise with the alcohol industry, who they credit with the exploitation of South Africa’s poor population.

This perspective, unfortunately, misses the point that the “alcohol industry” is not all directly concerned with alcohol. Glass bottling firms, retailers, transportation companies, restaurants, and a multitude of other enterprises are part of this industry and many, in indirect ways, are dependent upon it. Must the staff, and their families, of bottling companies and restaurants also suffer, simply to show up the beverage makers?

Consumer freedom of choice is guaranteed by the Constitution, and means other people – the poor included – may decide to do things that the chattering classes disagree with. This includes consuming alcohol. The marketplace is all about suppliers meeting demand and creating value for their consumers, and this is exactly what those in the alcohol trade are doing. It is not only economically devastating for government, supported by a small elite of intellectuals who disapprove of alcohol consumption, to interfere in this freedom, but it is also profoundly condescending and immoral.

Tracit rightly recommends that bans and prohibition should not be regarded as a legitimate means of responding to Covid-19, for such a response lacks discernible benefits and the consequences are dire for the alcohol industry, the economy, the government, and the entire South African society. It is far safer for South Africans, whose demand for alcohol is not going anywhere, to be able to access it in the lawful market, where it is subject to quality standards and where the point of sale is subject to social distancing and hygienic regulations.

No economy can function efficiently in the presence of the kind of policy uncertainty presently reigning in South Africa. Government must reassure the alcohol industry that further bans are off the table. Otherwise, we should expect further disinvestment by the industry and the further growth of the illicit trade, even now while the ban has been suspended.

While certain common-sense measures to combat Covid-19 can be retained, it is high time for South Africa to return to a healthy respect for freedom of choice.

Martin van Staden is South African Policy Fellow with the Consumer Choice Centre

Originally published here.

What does the UK Supreme Court ruling on Uber mean for the gig economy? Business and legal experts react

Uber has seen the UK’s highest court rule that its drivers are workers in an “historic” case.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of 35 Uber drivers in a case first brought in 2016. The drivers, who were deemed self-employed by the US-based ride-hailing app, argued that they should instead be classed as workers.

Under UK law, a person classed as a worker is entitled to some rights traditionally enjoyed by employees, including holiday pay and the minimum wage.

The ruling is one of the most significant employment cases the UK has seen.  It is a serious blow to Uber in what is one of its biggest consumer markets, and it is not yet known how big an impact it will have on the UK’s wider gig economy going forward. 

Several other taxi apps, including Bolt, Kapten and Ola, also currently operate on a similar model to Uber around the UK, and the wider gig economy has grown significantly over the past decade across the retail and consumer sectors. 

Self-employment accounts for more than one-third (35%) of employment growth since 2008, according to the Resolution Foundation. 

A lead claimant in the case, James Farrar, said that he hopes the ruling will “fundamentally re-order” the way businesses in the gig economy operate. 

Here we bring you reactions to the ruling and comments on its significance from political, legal, business and HR experts: 

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, noted that Uber’s share price fell 1% in opening trading on Wall Street “as investors digested the implications of the UK ruling”.

She said that a “significant rethink” of Uber’s labour policies is likely to be on the cards – and that it may even accelerate Uber’s plans to bring in self-drive cars “to eliminate the headache and cost of human labour.’’

The analyst pointed to delivery firm Hermes, which lost a similar ruling in the UK back in 2018, and ended up coming to a deal with unions which saw couriers offersed a “self- employed plus” status. 

Streeter said that the Supreme Court’s decision is the latest blow “chipping away at the gig economy model upon which the transport and delivery companies have developed sprawling and lucrative businesses”.

“Uber faces challenges in other parts of the world to drivers’ self-employed status, so a significant rethink of its labour policies is likely to be on the cards,” she said. “The UK Supreme Court decision steers Uber into a dead end in its legal fight and now the ride-hailing service will have to incur significant additional costs in the UK, to pay drivers the minimum wage and overtime and potentially also compensation.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, welcomed the ruling and said he “wants London to be the best place to do business and also the best place to work”.

He said: “Gig economy workers deserve the same rights as other workers.

“I urge businesses in the capital, including private hire companies, to pay their workers the London Living Wage, and to give them the security they deserve.

“Treating workers well leads to increased productivity.

“London is a tech powerhouse for the world – but employers must play by the rules.”

Alexandra Mizzi, Legal Director at law firm Howard Kennedy, said the result “underlines the key lesson for gig economy businesses: calling someone self-employed doesn’t mask the legal reality”.

Mizzi said: “This result will mean that the estimated 45,000 Uber drivers in the UK will benefit from a host of legal protections, including sick pay, holiday pay and whistleblower protections going forward.”

The lawyer noted that Uber will also face “a huge liability for unpaid national minimum wage, enforced by HMRC, as the Court also found that drivers were working when logged into the app”. 

Andy Davies, Senior VP at global HR company,MHR , said that the ruling shows “the tide is turning” on gig economy employers.

He said: “The tide is turning on those employers who unscrupulously use gig workers as a source of cheap labour and should serve as a stark reminder to other businesses that unless staff fit squarely into the ‘employee’ bracket, then they need to carefully consider their employment status, or consider themselves severely out of pocket in the future.”

The ruling that drivers are workers could even see workers across the entire gig economy rights to pension contributions, Aegon expert Kate Smith said.

Smith, who is the financial service firm’s head of pensions, said the ruling “could have ripple effects for all gig workers, giving them not only rights to holiday pay, but potentially other workplace  benefits such as employer pension contributions”. 

She said:“This reclassification is another step towards opening the doors to auto-enrolment for all gig workers, giving them the opportunity to save for retirement, with the important boost of the right to a 3% employer pension contribution.“  

Rosie Hooper, chartered financial planner at wealth manager Quilter, added: “There needs to be concerted effort to continue to boost engagement in pensions and ensure that those being enrolled for the first time know what they are contributing to and where it is going.”

Consumer rights groups warned that the decision may push up prices, and deter ride-hailing companies from investing in the UK.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the global consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, said that the “ruling sends the signal that rideshare companies are not welcome in the UK”and that  this is “not what consumers want”.

She said: “The flexible model that has so far propelled the growth of companies like Uber, Lyft, and others has been beneficial for both drivers who want independence and consumers who want convenience and competitive prices.”

Uber said it “respects the court’s decision”

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s Regional General Manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, said: ”We respect the Court’s decision which focussed on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016.

“Since then we have made some significant changes to our business, guided by drivers every step of the way. These include giving even more control over how they earn and providing new protections like free insurance in case of sickness or injury.

“We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see.”

Uber noted that being a worker “is a legal classification that’s specific to the UK” and that the ruling did not find the claimants to be employees” – and that the judgement “does not relate to couriers who earn on Uber Eats”.

Originally published here.

The inconsistencies of the European precautionary principle

Genetic engineering continues not to be allowed in the EU, but random mutagenesis is.

Despite revolutionising agriculture, genetic engineering is not allowed in the European Union. I have laid out the problem with this EU legislation in other blog posts on this website. In this article, I want to explain the blatant inconsistency of allowing random mutagenesis when genetic engineering remains illegal.

Conventional plant-breeding technologies include random mutagenesis. In the 20th century, plant-breeders significantly increased the number of naturally occurring mutations by inducing it through chemicals and radiation, achieving changes in the genome that aren’t directed or which outcome is not certain.

Robert Hollingworth, professor emeritus of the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Entomology and Institute for Integrative Toxicology has described the process as follows:

“More crops than you would imagine, in the supermarket today, were actually bred by mutagenesis. That is either treating the seeds with mutation-causing chemicals or blasting them with radiation. Ruby Red Grapefruit is an example and some of the barley strains that are used, even to produce organic beer, were produced in this way. It is quite common.

With mutagenesis, often the majority of things that happened were bad and so they would get thrown away, but once in a while something that was positive, like having no seeds or being shorter and therefore easier to harvest resulted and those were eventually released on the market, and without anybody asking a question.”

In essence, GMOs, and in an even more direct way, gene-editing, are precise methods, while existing mutagenesis is imprecise. A coherent application of precautionary food safety policy would prioritise genetic engineering over random mutagenesis.

A list of thousands of mutant varieties created through radiation is available on the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency, making publicly accessible information. However, despite being publicly available, it most certainly isn’t public knowledge, comparable to the way many consumers believe that organic food production does not involve pesticides. If food products were to be labelled with a “product created through radiation”, could we expect a reasoned conversation about the pros and cons of this method, or rather a complete rejection of these products from the start? The answer is intuitive. This is not an attempt to discredit random mutagenesis as a plant-breeding technology, nor make a wider claim about mandatory labelling, yet it does open this question: having considerably more certainty over the effects produced by genetic engineering than for those effects created by random mutagenesis, why are mandatory GMO labels a more attractive political option?

Furthermore, the inconsistencies of public discourse have made their way into legislation at the European Union level. The directive on the use of GMOs (addressed in the next chapter) excludes random mutagenesis, as the European Court of Justice has confirmed: “The Court states, however, that it is apparent from the GMO Directive that it does not apply to organisms obtained by means of certain mutagenesis techniques, namely those which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record.”

This is inconsistent with the scientific understanding of these procedures. In fact, human-induced transgenesis has a long safety record, while the results of random mutagenesis are, as previously explained, volatile.

The European Union needs to review its approach to the precautionary principle. What we currently see is that innovative solutions are reprimanded, while old and more problematic one is held up, because they confirm the biases of some in the EU. 

Originally published here.

Податок на інтернет гігантів будемо платити ми

Замість того, щоб довести до пуття наболілі економічні та судову реформи, маємо новий податок.

17-го лютого в середу Верховна Рада прийняла за основу законопроект про так званий податок на Гугл, який зобов’яже “big tech” (інтернет-гігантів) сплачувати податок на додану вартість до українського бюджету. Необхідність законодавчого акту, як пояснюють парламентарі-ініціатори, полягає в тому, що несплата компаніями-нерезидентами ПДВ призводить до втрат державного бюджету та створює неконкурентне середовище для резидентів-платників.

Дякуючи пандемії та локдаунам, що стали її наслідком, світ більшою мірою перейшов онлайн. Останній рік став переломним моментом для цифрової економіки. Вона рятувала нас від самотності під час квітневого і лютневого локдаунів, допомогала просувати власні бізнес-ідеї через рекламу в соцмережах та заохочувала створення нових додатків девелоперами. Мова йде про реальних споживачів. І саме їм – нам з вами – доведеться платити цей ПДВ. 

Перелік послуг, які охоплює нове регулювання, є досить широким. Зокрема, до таких послуг, зокрема, але не виключно, належать:

а) постачання зображень або текстів, в тому числі фотографій, електронних книжок та журналів;
б) постачання аудіовізуальних творів, відео на замовлення, ігор, азартні ігри, включаючи постачання послуг з участі в таких іграх;
в) надання доступу до інформаційних, комерційних, освітніх та розважальних електронних ресурсів та інших подібних ресурсів;г) надання у користування хмарних технологій для розміщення даних;
ґ) постачання (передача прав на використання) програмного забезпечення та оновлень до нього, а також дистанційне обслуговування програмного забезпечення та електронного обладнання;
д) надання рекламних послуг в мережі «Інтернет», мобільних додатках та інших електронних ресурсах.

Податок на додану вартість, як відомо, є непрямим податком, який сплачується покупцем послуг, але саме адміністрування здійснюється продавцем. Таким чином, будь-які послуги, які ми зараз отримуємо через інтернет (Youtube, Netflix, Google, Apple, AliExpress) подорожчають на 20 відсотків. Аналогічне подорожчання відбудеться у сфері e-commerce, а зокрема розміщувати реклами в соціальних мережах та мобільних додатках стане дорожче. Поширення ПДВ на інтернет-гігантів матиме прямий негативний вплив на малий бізнес в Україні, якому можливості інтернету дозволили комунікувати свою пропозицію більш ефективно.

Сама ставка податку на ПДВ на електронні послуги – та й загалом – є досить високою. В одній з найбільш економічно вільних країн світу Сінгапурі вона становить 7 відсотків, в Америці – до 10, у Канаді – 6. Очевидно, що розширити спектр регулювання вже встановленої ставки ПДВ на електронні послуги для регулювання конкуренції є набагато легше, аніж зменшити ставку повністю. Конкуренція на всіх ринках процвітає там, де держава мінімально втручається. 

Але наші парламентарі чомусь вирішили, що нам треба йти дорогою Росії, на яку вони посилаються у пояснювальній записці до законопроекту.

“З 01 січня 2017 року в Російській Федерації був введений податок, який зобов’язав нерезидентів сплачувати податок на додану вартість з продажу на території РФ електронних послуг: цифрового контенту, послуг зберігання та обробки інформації, реєстрації доменів і хостингу та ін., при цьому вони повинні стати на податковий облік. Серед технологічних гігантів у контролюючому органі зареєструвались Apple Distribution International, Google Commerce, Microsoft Ireland, Netflix International B.V., Wargaming Group, Bloomberg, Alibaba, та ін. Загалом з моменту впровадження податку на податковий облік стало 1580 компаній. За офіціними даними до бюджету такими компаніями (B2C) було сплачено у 2017 році  – 9,4 млдр. руб., у 2018 – 12 млдр. руб., у І кварталі 2019 – 12 млдр. руб. (70% суми припадає на найбільші IT компанії). Аналогічні податкові правила введені в Республіці Білорусь у 2018 році. “

Рухаємось на захід до кращого та вільного майбутнього, так? А загалом, цифри про те, скільки надходжень до державного бюджету допоміг отримати новий ПДВ не можуть бути ключовим аргументом у випадку України. Як ми всі добре знаємо, всі надходження до бюджету проходять мільйон корупційних схема перше, ніж якась мінімальна частина з них впаде на нас у вигляді послуг, соціальних гарантій і тд. Саме така доля чекає і на новий ПДВ. Нам треба зосередитись на тому, щоб лишити більше грошей на руках в звичайних громадян і дати їм можливість витрачати так, як вони вважають за потрібне.

Певно, одним з найбільш проблемних аспектів даного законопроекту є бюрократія. Компаніям-нерезидентам доведеться мати справу з нашою славнозвісною податковою і наділення її новими владними повноваженнями викликає занепокоєння. Відповідно до законопроекту, при проведенні податкової перевірки спрощеної податкової декларації поданої особою нерезидентом, може витребувати в особи нерезидента та третіх осіб інформацію та документи, які підтверджують факт постачання на митній території України електронних послуг фізичним особам, вартість поставлених послуг та терміни їх оплати. 

Загалом, головне, що нам всім варто зрозуміти стосовно розширення регулювання ПДВ це те, що платити за це прийдеться нам з вами. Для малих девелоперів та бізнесу це підсилить тягар ведення діяльності в Україні. Що з цими грошима буде робити держава – невідомо. Але замість того, щоб довести до пуття наболілі економічні та судову реформи, маємо новий податок. Податок на сервіси, які комусь дозволяють заробити, а комусь – відпочити від негативних новин про ковід за серіалом.

Originally published here.

Is inclusive volume for Spotify soon history?

The consumer should not be protected from himself. Instead, he or she should have the possibility to choose freely in offers.

When was the last time you used an FM radio? If your age is between 15 and 50, chances are it’s been a while. I can see you’re one of those streamers on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and if you’re interested in sports, maybe DAZN or Skyticket.

The world has changed. The occasional exciting radio show interrupted every five minutes by a mix of dull lift music and repetitive supermarket ads have been replaced by hours of conversations on podcasts, always aimed at a specific niche. You don’t write letters to friends anymore; no, even e-mails seem very formal nowadays. You write to them on one of the messengers.

Naturally, some companies have been able to beat the competition by offering good service. For example, when it comes to streaming music, we think of Spotify (a European company, by the way), when it comes to videos, we think of YouTube, and when it comes to TV shows, we think of Netflix.

Especially when it comes to mobile internet, telecommunications providers are taking advantage of this information and adapting their offers: In addition to the monthly internet volume, packages are offered. Certain apps and services can be used without data limits. For example, a music lover can choose a package in which he or she can listen to Spotify, Apple Music or other contractually defined services without limit. At the same time, a series junkie can opt for a different package.

This is attractive for the consumer; after all, the internet does not grow on trees, especially not in digital developing countries like Germany.

But for the most part, that’s probably over now. On 15 September 2020, the European Court of Justice ruled that tariffs in which certain apps are excluded from speed throttling violate EU law. Specifically, the case concerns the Hungarian branch of the telecommunications company Telenor and the Hungarian Media and Telecommunications Authority, which issued two notices stating that its offers violated Art.3(3) of Regulation 2015/2120.

The court hearing the case referred a question to the European Court of Justice on the interpretation of Art.3(1-3) of the Regulation. The standards concern internet services and their use and the so-called “openness of the internet”, sometimes also called “net neutrality”. The legal norms are intended to secure the rights of end-users. The ruling states

“Moreover, that concept covers both natural or legal persons who use or request internet access services to access content, applications and services and those who provide content, applications and services employing internet access.”

According to the ECJ, agreements such as those of the company are suitable for restricting end-users rights. On the one hand, it is argued that the use of preferentially treated apps could be increased as a result. On the other hand, the other services, which can continue to be throttled, are disadvantaged and usage could decrease. It is argued that such agreements could cumulatively lead to a significant restriction of end-users rights.

Moreover, the unequal treatment is not based on objectively different requirements for certain services but on purely commercial considerations.

Thus, Telenorl’s agreements violate European law. The ECJ’s reasoning should not even be challenged here. If one looks at the standards, the ECJ’s line is quite compatible with them or very defensible. What is worthy of criticism are the norms themselves, as well as the philosophical and economic considerations behind them. First of all, it is not a malicious idea to provide everyone in the market with the same conditions. The advocates of “net neutrality” also mean well when they want to prevent discrimination and cartel-like actions in the market.

Unfortunately, few are interested in the fact that this is an encroachment on the private autonomy of telecommunications companies, service providers and consumers. The goal of an “open internet” for all seems more important than consumers and companies trying to do business with each other.

However, the offers and the unequal treatment make sense; they enable the carefree use of specific services that would otherwise mutate into volume guzzlers every month. The consumer does not have to worry about this with such a contract; he can use his preferred service without any restrictions (at least if he lives in a region with good network coverage).

If one bans such voluntary solutions, one first knows what the ban will not lead to: To unrestricted volume for all. It is certainly possible that the telecommunications companies will compete with the total volume. But 5 GB or not will make no difference if the work is only needed for a particular service, but without restrictions. The consumer should not be protected from himself. Instead, he or she should have the possibility to choose freely in offers.

Originally published here.

Why Jeff Bezos’s Consumer Revolution Is a True American Success Story

If we’re lucky, Bezos’s example will inspire millions of more entrepreneurs in the 21st century.

After more than a quarter century at the helm of one of the world’s most valuable companies, Jeff Bezos announced this month that he will soon step down as the CEO of Amazon.

The mark Bezos and his company have left on consumers, small businesses, and the entire global marketplace cannot be overstated: he helped create a revolution in the way ordinary people access and distribute goods.

The innovations pioneered by Amazon now empower billions of individuals who buy and sell products online, host and use websites, consume news, books, and movies and expect speedy and accountable delivery as a standard of doing business.

“If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal,” wrote Bezos in his farewell letter. “People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.”

Indeed, so much innovation has poured out of Amazon’s headquarters and distribution centers these past two decades that they have become ubiquitous to our lives, especially in the past year of coronavirus lockdowns.

None of this would have been achieved without significant risks.

As he leaves his perch from atop one of only two trillion-dollar companies that have ever existed, it is worth remembering that Bezos is a true American success story.

As he stated in congressional testimony last year, Bezos was raised by a teenage single mother and later his Cuban refugee stepfather in New Mexico. During summers, he worked on his grandparents’ farm, and later tinkered in his parents’ garage to come up with various inventions.

That curiosity led him to the idea of an online bookstore with unlimited titles, a pitch that often led him to get laughed out of boardrooms and universities.

Now, all these years later, with plenty of expensive mistakes behind him, Bezos oscillates between the richest and second richest person in the world.

That said, there are people of every political persuasion that have a bone to pick.

His billionaire status and operation of global distribution centers often puts him in the crosshairs of tax-hungry governments, leftist politicians, and labor activists. At the same time, his ownership of the Washington Post newspaper and various political leanings make him a convenient punching bag for conservatives.

Overall, there are legitimate questions about how Amazon treats its workers, how the company partners with law enforcement, and its pursuit of corporate welfare.

Some would say there are better ways Bezos could distribute his significant wealth in philanthropic pursuits, participate in public conversations, or throw his political weight behind important issues of the day. But it would be a mistake to overlook the overall value Amazon has already provided us.

Today, we have a consumer revolution in which we are all empowered to buy and sell products on the Amazon marketplace, have them delivered seamlessly, and have it all running on cloud computing hardware developed by Amazon engineers. We have the explosive growth of Amazon Prime and its video products, and a Hollywood studio that puts the incumbents to shame.

With such a distinguished career in delivering value to consumers, Jeff Bezos deserves our thanks and praise. If we’re lucky, his example will inspire millions of more entrepreneurs in the 21st century.

Originally published here.

Фонди Блумберга несуть відповідальність за зниження ефективності ВООЗ

Експерт пояснив повільну і невдалу реакцію ВООЗ на останні пандемії – від Еболи в Західній Африці до коронавірусу в Китаї і по всьому світові.

Відомий філантроп Майкл Блумберг і фінансовані ним організації шкодять громадському здоров’ю. Адже відволікають Всесвітню організацію охорони здоров’я від боротьби з епідеміями, перетворюючи її на «поліцейського» проти  дитячих каш, солодких газованих напоїв і тютюнових виробів. 

Про це пише в Washington Examiner заступник директора Consumer Choice Center(глобальної групи захисту прав споживачів) Єль Островський.

“Майкл Блумберг починав із заборон великих пляшок солодких газованих напоїв в Нью-Йорку. Але тепер «мер великий ковток» (як його називали за часів, коли він очолював Нью-Йорк) має глобальні амбіції. Від Японії і Філіппін до Індії і Перу – гроші Блумберга призвели до різкого підвищення податків на споживчі товари – зокрема, на газовані напої та сигарети, до заборон проти вейпінгу і обмежень на рекламу каш для дітей”, – пише Єль Островський. 

Але найгірший результат діяльності Блумберга полягає в тому, що йому вдалося суттєво змістити акценти в роботі Всесвітньої організації охорони здоров’я – що найгірше проявилося у неефективному реагуванні ВООЗ на пандемію коронавірусу.

“ВООЗ збилася з дороги. Замість організовувати роботу із покращення обладнання для лікарень, підготовки лікарів і всієї системи охорони здоров’я до можливих нових епідемій, «глибокі кишені» Блумберга перетворили ВООЗ на глобального поліцейського для країн, що розвиваються”, – впевнений Єль Островський. 

Саме цим пояснює експерт вкрай повільну і невдалу реакцію ВООЗ на останні пандемії – від Еболи в Західній Африці до коронавірусу в Китаї і по всьому світові.

Але незважаючи на такі сумні і сумнівні результати, фонд Блумберга продовжує накачувати фінансами інституції з охорони здоров’я в таких країнах як Філіппіни та Індія – в обмін на жорсткі заборони і обмеження для частини споживчих товарів – констатує Єль Островський.

Така активна політика втручання Блумберга вже призвела до доволі жорсткої реакції зокрема з боку прем’єр-міністра Індії Нарендра Моді, який ще з 2014 р. почав обмежувати вплив фондів Блумберга на місцевих чиновників.

Цього року аналогічний скандал із фондами Блумберга стався на Філіппінах. Там національний парламент вже зацікавився виділенням коштів фонду Блумберга місцевому державному органу – Управлінню безпеки харчових і фармацевтичних товарів, яке зараз розглядає питання регулювання товарів для вейпінгу.

Уряд Філіппін навіть вже закликав чиновників Управління повернути кошти, незаконно отримані від організацій, фінансованих Блумбергом.

Як повідомляв УНІАН, схожий активний фінансовий вплив організації Блумберга демонстрували також в інших країнах з низьким і середнім рівнем доходу. 

Наприклад, міністр охорони здоров’я Вірменії Арсен Торосян також визнавав, що вірменські урядові структури підписали «грантові угоди» з трьома організаціями, які теж фінансує Блумберг. 

Схожа ситуація й у  В’єтнамі, де Bloomberg Philanthropies внесли щонайменше 3,2 млн. доларів у “спроможність контролю над тютюном” з 2007 по 2014 р. За заявою Bloomberg Philanthropies, вони “тісно співпрацювали з урядом та місцевими організаціями”, включаючи Міністерство охорони здоров’я.

В результаті цієї співпраці у В’єтнамі, де 45% чоловіків продовжують палити, місцевий МОЗ оголосив про план повністю заборонити купівлю, продаж, виготовлення та ввезення електронних сигарет. Хоча в деяких країнах Європи електронні сигарети вже вважаються одним з найефективніших засобів відмови від куріння.

В Україні теж діє низка організацій, спонсорованих фондами Блумберга. Серед них – ГО «Життя», що активно співпрацює з народними депутатами та деякими працівниками системи Міністерства охорони здоров’я у формуванні політики й законопроектній роботі.

Originally published here.

Uber is right: recognise independent platform workers

In a new white paper presented to the European Commission, the ride-sharing platform Uber defended its business model ahead of new legislation on platform work.

“This standard (for platform work) needs to recognise the value of independent work and be grounded in principles drivers and couriers say are most important to them,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a blog post.

In many EU member states, platforms such as Uber, Bolt, and Heetch have come under fire for how they structure the relationship between the platform and drivers. Contrary to a standard taxi firm, Uber does not employ drivers and thus is not responsible for various benefits that come with traditional employment.

This independent status gives drivers independence and flexibility, meaning they can clock in and out with no predefined working hours. The structure enables individuals to use these apps as supplementary income next to other employment opportunities and has created a ride-sharing experience that is more diverse, breaking up the licensing system that has burdened individual transport in Europe for decades. 

Especially now, we need functioning and smart laws that empower those who use the gig economy, not penalise them. This is especially true for low-income Europeans, who are more than likely to use these services to supplement their incomes or save money. Too often, regulators and politicians have folded to the demands of the legacy industries that once held monopolies over hospitality services, such as hotels, car rental agencies, and taxi firms.

According to Euractiv, “The Commission said it will first seek feedback on whether a law is needed to improve the working conditions of gig workers, followed by a second consultation on the content of the law.

“As part of the social partners’ consultation, the European Commission is considering issues, such as precarious working conditions, transparency and predictability of contractual arrangements, health and safety challenges and adequate access to social protection,” a spokeswoman said.”

EU legislation on the matter is still a long wait, but forced harmonisation of the rules could be a serious blow to the diversity of the European market. So far, member states have been free to choose the model that works for them. In the Sharing Economy Index 2020, the Consumer Choice Center compared different cities in Europe, showing large disparities in how Europe approaches these innovative solutions.

Of course, the effects of the pandemic on the sharing economy cannot be overstated. The large sharing economy companies such as Airbnb, Uber and Lime are struggling with fewer people travelling and using their services. But that is not how we should measure the success of the gig economy.

The promise of the sharing economy has never been about gains on Wall Street, bold corporate executives or even profits for investors. It is not about a single company’s bottom line or its market share. Rather, it has always been about offering new and innovative options to empower people like you and me to improve our lives.

The sharing economy empowers both consumers and entrepreneurs to creatively and collaboratively use or lend resources they otherwise wouldn’t. That allows people to earn additional income as owners and save money as users.

Whether it is ridesharing, carsharing, home-sharing, the sharing of tools, or e-scooter rentals, the regulations on the sharing economy should not make them more difficult to use or from which to profit.

Some EU member states have found tangible compromises between the platform apps and regulators. But if we want more competition in the field of the sharing economy, we need to keep market entry barriers as low as possible. Sometimes, not regulating is better than trying to regulate in one way or the other.

Yaël Ossowski (@YaelOss) is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group.

Originally published here.

Industri Vape dan Lapangan Kerja di Indonesia

Industri rokok elektronik, atau yang dikenal dengan nama vape, merupakan salah satu industri yang kini terus berkembang di berbagai negara di dunia, termasuk juga di Indonesia. Bagi kita yang tinggal di wilayah urban di kota-kota besar misalnya, dengan mudah kita bisa menemukan berbagai orang yang menggunakan rokok elektronik, khususnya mereka yang berasal dari kalangan muda.

Konsumen vape di Indonesia sendiri bukan dalam jumlah yang sedikit. Pada tahun 2020 lalu misalnya, berdasarkan daya dari Asosiasi Vaper Indonesia (AVI), setidaknya ada 2 juta masyarakat Indonesia yang secara aktif mengkonsumsi rokok elektronik (, 24/4/2020).
Meningkatnya pengguanan vape di Indonesia sendiri bisa kita lihat disebabkan oleh berbagai hal. Tidak bisa dipungkiri bahwa, rokok elektronik menyediakan berbagai fitur yang tidak disediakan oleh berbagai produk rokok konvensional. Salah satunya adalah, rasa yang sangat variatif, seperti rasa buah-buahan, yang jarang atau bahkan mustahil bisa kita dapatkan di produk-produk rokok konvensional yang dibakar. Hal ini tentu membuat vape memiliki daya tarik tersendiri, terutama bagi kalangan muda yang tinggal di perkotaan.

Namun, tidak semua orang menyambut baik adanya fenomena tersebut. Berbagai kalangan di Indonesia mengadvokasi dan mendukung agar seluruh produk vape di Indonesia dapat dilarang secara penuh.

Organisasi dokter di Indonesia, Ikatan Dokter Indonesia (IDI) misalnya, mengadvokasi dan menuntut pemerintah agar segera melarang seluruh produk rokok elektronik. IDI beralasan bahwa rokok elektronik dianggap sebagai produk yang berbahaya bagi kesehatan, dan tidak jauh berbeda dari rokok konvensional yang dibakar (CNN Indonesia, 24/9/2019).

Meskipun demikian, penelitian oleh lembaga kesehatan dari berbagai negara di dunia justru menunjukkan hasil yang sebaliknya. Pada tahun 2015 lalu misalnya, lembaga kesehatan publik asal Inggris, Public Health England (PHE), mengeluarkan laporan yang menyatakan bahwa rokok elektronik merupakan produk yang jauh lebih aman bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar, yakni hingga 95% lebih aman (, 19/8/2015).

Hal ini tentu merupakan sesuatu yang sangat positif. Bila semakin banyak para konsumen rokok yang dapat beralih dan berpindah ke produk-produk rokok elektronik yang terbukti jauh lebih aman dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional, maka tentu akan lebih sedikit orang-orang yang terkena penyakit kronis, dan biaya kesehatan juga menjadi dapat ditekan dan menurun.

Untuk itu, kebijakan pelarangan vape, seperti yang diadvokasi oleh IDI dan berbagai lembaga lainnya, adalah kebijakan yang tidak tepat dan justru akan membawa banyak kerugian. Dengan demikian, para perokok di Indonesia akan semakin sulit untuk mencari produk pengganti yang terbukti jauh lebih aman, yang tentunya dapat semakin membahayakan kesehatan mereka. Belum lagi, pelarangan tersebut tidak mustahil akan memunculkan berbagai produk-produk ilegal yang justru sangat berbahaya bagi konsumen.

Selain itu, yang tidak kalah pentingnya adalah, industri vape di negeri kita sendiri sudah menyumbangkan banyak lapangan kerja bagi masyarakat Indonesia. Berdasarkan data dari Asosiasi Personal Vaporizer Indonesia (APVI) misalnya, pada tahun 2020 lalu, setidaknya ada 50.000 orang yang secara langsung bekerja di industri rokok elektronik di Indonesia (, 6/6/2020).

Angka ini, berdasarkan data APVI, belum termasuk tenaga kerja yang bekerja di berbagai toko retail rokok elektronik di seluruh Indonesia. APVI memperkirakan, bahwa setidaknya ada 3.500 toko retail rokok elektronik yang tersebar di seluruh nusantara. 2.300 diantara toko tersebut setidaknya tersebar di pulau Jawa, semntara sisanya tersebar di berbagai pulau lainnya, seperti Kalimanta, Sumatera, Bali, dan Sulawesi (, 6/6/2020).

Hal ini tentu merupakan perkembangan yang pesat, mengingat industri vape merupakan industri yang tergolong baru berkembang di Indonesia. Industri rokok elektronik di Indonesia sendiri baru berkembang setidaknya sejak 4 tahun terakhir, atau sejak tahun 2017. Pada tahun 2017 misalnya, pengguna vape di Indonesia berjumlah 900.000 pengguna. Angka tersebut meningkat menjadi 1,2 juta pengguna pada tahun 2019, dan 2,2 juta pengguna pada tahun 2020 (, 6/6/2020).

Hal tersebut tentunya menunjukkan peningkatan yang cukup pesat. Bisa dipastikan, di tahun-tahun setelahnya, industri vape atau rokok elektronik di Indonesia akan terus meningkat, yang pastinya akan semakin meningkatkan lapangan kerja. Dengan demikian, kebijakan pelarangan vape di Indonesia tentu bukan saja merupakan kebijakan yang dapat membahayakan konsumen, namun juga akan menutup lapangan kerja banyak orang, serta akan menutup pintu pembukaan lapangan kerja lain, yang sangat dibutuhkan oleh banyak masyarakat di Indonesia.

Semakin meningkatnya penggunaan vape atau rokok elektronik ini juga telah menyumbang pendapatan cukai yang tinggi bagi pemerintah. Pada tahun 2019 saja misalnya, industri rokok elektronik telah menyumbangkan setidaknya 427 miliar rupiah. Angka ini tentu merupakan jumlah yang sangat besar, dan bisa digunakan oleh pemerintah untuk membiayai berbagai program-program publik (, 6/6/2020).

Sebagai penutup, industri vape telah menyumbang banyak tenaga kerja dan juga pendapatan cukai yang tidak sedikit bagi pemerintah dan negara Indonesia. Belum lagi, produk rokok elektronik merupakan produk sudah terbukti jauh lebih aman bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar tentu merupakan hal yang sangat positif. Dengan demikian, kebijakan pelarangan vape sebagaimana yang diadvokasi oleh berbagai pihak tentu merupakan hal yang tidak tepat, karena bukan hanya akan semakin membahayakan kesehatan publik, namun juga akan mengurangi pendapatan negara, dan menghilangkan lapangan kerja bagi banyak orang.

Originally published here.

Biden’s Bold Climate Plan Shouldn’t Ban Plastics

As expected, the Biden administration was just a few days old and had already exercised the power of the pen. On day one, President Biden issued 17 executive actions on issues ranging from COVID19 relief to immigration reform. Chief among those were actions on climate policy, set to be a cornerstone of the Biden agenda.

All in one day, President Biden recommitted the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord and revoked permits for the Keystone XL pipeline project, slated to have its fourth phase completed to transport oil from Alberta, Canada to Steele City Nebraska at a rate of 500,000 barrels of oil a day for 20 years.

Climate activists applauded the president’s first actions, but they’re pushing for more. For its part, the activist group Greenpeace wants Biden to declare total war on plastic, supporting bills such as the “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.” Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Times editorial board has urged restrictions on single-use plastics in all future climate change policies. 

Congress also has added some new plastic warriors to its seating chart. Newly-minted U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) campaigned on an overarching federal plastic ban, while appointed U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) was the architect of California’s 2014 plastic bag ban. 

While there is no doubt the Biden administration will put plastics in its crosshairs, we should ask whether plastic bans are, on the whole, a net positive for the environment and climate.

If we care about the environment, much of the evidence dug up by other countries points us in the opposite direction. 

When Denmark considered a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags, its studies found they were far superior in comparison to alternatives. The Danes came to that conclusion based on 15 environmental benchmarks, including climate change, toxicity, ozone depletion, resource depletion, and ecosystem impact. They calculated paper bags would need to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag. For cotton, the figures were even worse. A cotton bag has to be reused 7,000 times, while an organic version would need to be used 20,000 times to be on par with a single-use plastic bag. Consumer usage patterns clearly show that if the environment is our concern, banning plastic bags is a net negative.

Beyond bags, there is also a strong case to be made that other plastics may be environmentally advantageous when compared to alternatives. Researchers in Switzerland, looking at baby food containers, concluded using plastic over glass reduced emissions by up to 33 percent due to its lighter weight and lower transportation costs. That same metric also applies to everything from food packaging to everyday consumer goods. 

As such, restricting plastics would undoubtedly push consumers to high impact alternatives, which runs counter to the goals of sustainability and reduced waste.

This isn’t to deny the serious issue of mismanaged plastic waste. In fact, if Biden wants to take action to remove plastic waste from our environment, he should consider innovative recycling practices that are proving effective, such as chemical depolymerization. 

This is the process of advanced recycling, where plastic is broken down and repurposed into new products. There are innovative projects underway across North America led by scientists and entrepreneurs, taking simple plastics, altering their chemical bonds, and repurposing them into resin pelletstiles for your home, and even road asphalt. This approach empowers innovation to solve plastic waste, creates jobs, and does it with minimal environmental impact.

But for those who recognize the potential of this innovation, there still remains the problem of microplastics, which often end up in our water sources. Luckily, scientists have an answer here as well. 

Using electrolytic oxidation, researchers have succeeded in “attacking” microplastics, breaking them down into C02 and water molecules, all without additional chemicals. Here, the Biden administration could embrace the science that makes these technologies both scalable and sustainable.

If President Biden wants to heed the call of climate action, he has all the tools at his disposal to do so. But rather than endorsing costly and ineffective plastic bans, we should look to innovators and scientists who are offering a third way on plastic waste. That would be a true endorsement of science for the 21st century.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center

Originally published here.

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